Making the Case for Accessibility

How to convince your team to invest in more accessible design

Susanna Zaraysky
May 23 · 12 min read

1. Make it personal, make it stick

Valuing the importance of accessibility in design can be hard for people to grasp unless they have personally experienced a disability or know someone who has. You can show statistics of the demographic trends of people with disabilities and the growing aging population or advocate for how much bigger your product’s market potential will be if the product is usable by people with disabilities, but unfortunately, the numbers alone won’t tell the story. Statistics don’t stick in people’s minds, stories and experiences do. Build empathy and understanding by combining your facts, charts, graphs, and statistical analyses with stories, videos, images, and live demonstrations.

Strategies:

  • Share stories about how products work or don’t work for you and people you know with accessibility challenges.
  • Show videos and photos of how people with disabilities use technology or various products to help them in their daily lives.
  • Do a live demonstration of how to use assistive technology. For example, show someone using a CaptionCall phone that provides captions for the hard-of-hearing while they are speaking on the phone.
  • Conduct an inclusive design exercise that demonstrates personal experiences of temporary or permanent disabilities. Challenge your colleagues to think about how they would use their product in tricky situations that may give them a temporary impairment, such as when cooking (temporary motor impairment), having screen glare (temporary low vision), or being at a loud bar (temporary deafness). Encourage them to think of accessibility changes (high contrast, voice control, and captions, etc.) that could remedy these situations.
  • Have your colleagues try different assistive technologies on themselves to simulate temporary and permanent disabilities. Here are some ideas of exercises to do:
  1. Put on a blindfold and use a screen reader such as Chrome Vox or Voice Over to navigate a website.
  2. Look at your company’s website, app, or product images using the No Coffee Visual Simulator to see what it might look like to users with color blindness, nystagmus, low acuity, cataracts, and other visual disabilities.
  3. Have your coworkers pretend they have a broken arm or a permanent arm disability by disabling their dominant hand. If they are right-handed, see if they’re comfortable putting their right-arm in a sling or holding it behind their back and if they are left-handed, try the same with their left arm. Instruct them to type emails by turning on voice dictation. Ask your coworkers to check how accurate the voice typing seems and how much time it takes for them to correct mistakes with their non-dominant hand.

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2. Make it universal and flexible

A curb cut helps people in wheelchairs and those pushing strollers, delivery carts, suitcases, and other items. Image credit: Ryan Kiley, Visual Designer
Using voice translation, Mary’s doctor speaks into her phone about her medical concerns. Mary ignores the French translation.

Strategies:

  • Think of how the Curb Cut effect applies to your product. What changes can your team make to not only help people with disabilities, but all users?
  • Do a brainstorming session or sprint with your team about how they could repurpose products for accessibility use cases and how your product could benefit people in creative ways.

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3. Small changes — > big impact

Incremental small changes build a better and more robust product. Your team could start with implementing closed captions and alt text, and then move on to checking the color contrast in images, and then do screen reader tests and automated audits.

Scenario #1

Your team dedicated months to making funny Do-It-Yourself (DIY) houseware repair videos with jokes and fun music. Add a transcript of your video. A transcript is not only important for your customers who can’t hear, but it’s also good for the search engine optimization (SEO) of your website. Search engines can’t crawl the audio and video input of your video. However, if there is a transcript, then search engines can find keywords such as “DIY dishwasher repair” or “fix the microwave” from the transcript.

Strategies:

  • Provide human-generated captions, or at least, edit auto-generated YouTube captions for accuracy.
  • Add transcripts of videos with descriptions of the images and music lyrics. Remove the time stamps from the auto-generated YouTube caption file, and edit for accuracy to create a transcript.

Scenario #2

You are making the website for a new restaurant. The restaurant owner wants to upload the JPEG images of the fancy printed menu to the website. There is gray text on a light beige background that matches the interior colors of the restaurant. The restaurant owner likes these images and colors because they represent what the restaurant has to offer. What could be a problem with this situation?

Do (green): The text follows the color contrast ratio recommendations and is more legible against the white background. Caution (mustard): The text doesn’t meet the color contrast ratio recommendations and may be difficult to read against the white background. Image above adapted from the Crane Material study.

Strategies:

  • Add alt text to images, unless they are decorative.
  • Check for important text in images and try to reflect that text in the caption or alt text.
  • Test out your app or website with screen reader software.
  • Check for the color contrast ratios in your app or website.
  • Visit a TED talk video to see how the site has both subtitles on the video and a transcript.

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4. Money talks

Connect the stories with the statistics by explaining how not designing for accessibility scenarios leads to lost revenue. For example, government agencies may ask companies who want to sell products or software to the government for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). If your product has not considered accessibility, then your company may lose potential sales to a large buyer such as the government.

Strategy:

  • Talk with your colleagues about how making your product more accessible may lead to better market opportunities and as a result, more profits.

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5. Aim for industry standards

Look for helpful guides or industry standards to help your product stay ahead of possible complications. Your product may be subject to accessibility and disability requirements in the countries where your product is available. In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, before websites and apps were created. But as with many laws, new inventions and technology sometimes outpace specific rules and regulations.

Strategies:

  • Learn about and aim for industry standards, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published as part of the Web Accessibility Initiative within the W3C.
  • Consult your own lawyer to find out what requirements may apply to your product and whether any scenarios or outcomes may force you to incorporate accessibility compliance into your product.

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Google Design

Stories by Googlers on the practice of design. For editorial content and more visit design.google

Susanna Zaraysky

Written by

Google Design

Stories by Googlers on the practice of design. For editorial content and more visit design.google